IRISH PATIENTS with coronavirus symptoms have been thrown into confusion across the country after being told they are no longer eligible to be tested for the deadly virus.
Some 40,000 people were awaiting the chance to be tested after being told by their GP to wait for an available time slot.
However, the health service has now abandoned their "test, test, test" strategy leaving tens of thousands unsure if they can still be screened.
GPs informed waiting patients on Wednesday that they were no longer eligible for testing, and were instead told to self-isolate at home for 14 days - whether or not they have the disease.
The tightening of the rules is partially due to efforts to keep the healthcare system from overloading, and also due to the shortage of medical equipment.
A swab test, which is the current method used to detect the virus, requires a number of staff for it to be carried out, all of whom need to use single-use medical equipment.
GPs will now only refer a patient for a swab test if they have a fever as well as a respiratory symptom, such as a cough or shortage of breath.
The new approach follows advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) adapted for Ireland specifically.
On Wednesday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan defended the decision to narrow the criteria for testing and focus on priority patients.
He said that the system was unable to cope with 20,000 people seeking tests at once, especially given that only 6% of those screened for Covid-19 have tested positive - the majority of the rest turning out to have the winter flu instead.
"Changing case definition is a standard practice in managing pandemics," Dr Holohan said.
"Ultimately we want our 6% detected rate to increase, we want to find as many people as possible with Covid-19, isolate them and contain the spread.